Buffy The Vampire Slayer Reviews: Band Candy

“There's no point in being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes.”

Even in his first story, Tom Baker's Doctor hit the nail on the head thanks to his talent for intergalactic insight. All grown-ups feel this way. The brain's telling you that you're still a youngster even if the mirror's laughing at you with its brazen display of grey hairs, receding hairlines and chubbier jowls.

But I'm channel surfing, and having already reviewed the Doctor Who story, Robot, let's switch over to the Buffy The Vampire Slayer channel. As luck would have it, I've reached the episode where Tom's Doctor's mantra is scribbled everywhere in thick colourful kiddy wax crayon.

Band Candy is an episode that carries on finding the fun, as Faith would so eloquently put it. Principal Snyder's latest Davros-esque order to his worthless minions – sorry, pupils – involves selling box-loads full of candy in order to raise money for the school band. The marching band needs new uniforms, supposedly. Do they march around in moth-eaten sacks or something?

Unbeknown to Snyder, however, there's something in the candy that's making the adult folk of Sunnydale revert back to their younger personalities. It's all the result of the latest scheme from Mr Trick, who's now working for the Mayor, who needs to distract the grown-ups for a while in order to pull off a fiendishly bad scheme involving babies and a giant snake thing. Fortunately, Trick's found a freelancer who can oblige with a plan so clever it wears glasses and a mortar board.

The freelancer turns out to be Ethan Rayne, Giles' arch enemy and weirdo self-mutilator. Ethan's back in town, overseeing a conveyor belt of candy that will ensure that the adult population will only care about music, cars and snogging the opposite sex, as opposed to carrying out their regular daily duties and responsibilities. Quite what's involved in the recipe, we never really find out – Hellmouth-y cocoa or some other demon-related ingredient. Or maybe a simple dollop of jelly and ice cream mix. The results are amazing though. In the real world, these would sell like hot chocolate. If you could believe in miracles that is – like seeing some of the stuffy politicians in our world revert to pea-shooters and whoopee cushions in their otherwise tedious debates about nothing and no one and nowhere.

The reason that Band Candy works is – like a number of other great Buffy stories – that it runs on a simple idea. What would life be like if the adults behaved like kids? It's a dilemma that's no doubt crossing Buffy's mind, given that Giles and her mother are going through a heavy authoritarian phase. They're both putting heavy pressure on Buffy, whether it's through extra training or study, and it's evidently getting to the Slayer. “You're both scheduling me 24 hours a day,” she complains. “Between you, that's 48 hours. I just want to be able to make a few decisions on my own.” The problem is, Buffy wants to have her own cake and eat it. She wants more responsibility and freedom, including the chance to drive. But in order to escape the pressure, she scoots off to secretly see Angel who's doing a spot of Tai Chi. Incidentally, can someone buy this man a packet of shirts?

Furthermore, Buffy finds that when it comes down to it, she needs a bit of grown-up authority when it turns out that both Giles and Joyce have had too much candy to eat. “I need help, OK?” she yells in the middle of the crisis. “Giles? I need grown-ups!” When Buffy is forced to be the adult, it's something new and alien to her – while she can make decisions, she still needs that safety net of adulthood to fall back on. It's a conundrum that will hit Buffy hard a few seasons down the line – Band Candy is a good prelude to this, looking at how the teenagers can handle themselves in a crisis. Luckily they get it right this time – it's too bad that in Season Six, some of those decisions will leave a lot to be desired...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. One of the main reasons that Band Candy works is because of the portrayals of Giles, Joyce and Snyder. All three are notably different to their usual personas, but they all tally with the scraps of information that we've been fed so far in the series. The Dark Age indicated a rebellious younger Giles, railing against his stuffy upbringing and destiny. The cocky, Cockney Giles of Band Candy is poles apart from the reserved and placid librarian. He listens to cool records such as Cream's 1967 classic, Disraeli Gears (he's delightedly basking in the guitar riff of the Tales Of Brave Ulysses track), thinks nothing of breaking into shops to steal clothes and even manages to get the girl this time.

Joyce is the girl in question, and her wannabe cool persona comes off in waves (think back to Witch, when Buffy scoffed at her lack of cool in the yearbook department). Joyce was evidently someone who hung out with the cool kids in school, but never quite reached their level. If Giles liked the trendy sounds of the 1960s and 1970s, Joyce was going out and buying Seals And Crofts records (Giles' disgusted facial expression says it all). It's amusing to see so many golden oldie music references throughout, from Willow pondering if there's a Billy Joel tour in town through to an awful a cappella version of The Kingsmen's Louie Louie from a bunch of old Sunnydale farts at The Bronze.

The most notable victim of the candy is Snyder himself. Buffy's assertion that Snyder never got a date in high school is evident from his behaviour in Band Candy. Teen Snyder is the loser geek who is desperate to be popular. His constant bragging is a vain attempt at making a name for himself in the world, whether he's bigging up his links to the Mayor, showing off karate moves or even amusingly demanding that he be called just by his last name (“Like...Barbarino!”). It's obvious that Snyder had no friends at school, since he sticks like glue to Buffy, Willow and Oz. Since his idea of rebelling is doughnuts in the football field, this comes as little surprise. Snyder's transformation into Evil Principal is some belated revenge for his unpopularity as a youth. Giles frequently gets annoyed, while Joyce gets exasperated by his no-hope attempts at flirting.

The great thing about what could have been a lightweight subplot is that it nicely fills in the gaps of the adult characters. It's skilled world-building, offering a glimpse into the lives of the grown-ups of Sunnydale before they matured. It's also a good excuse to showcase the acting talents of the three. Anthony Head (using his normal accent), Kristine Sutherland and Armin Shimerman work wonders with the material, providing highly amusing performances as the juvenile three without ever slipping into parody or ham. Shimerman's turn as younger Snyder is especially brilliant (“I am so stoked!”), contrasting effectively with the regular pompous authority figure that lurks evilly in the halls of Sunnydale High.

All in all, Band Candy is great fun, and it's a hoot to see the youngsters act with bemused disbelief at the grown-ups rediscovering their youth. Miss Barton the teacher is a notable addition to the ranks (“Are there any nachos in there, little tree?”), and it's a shame we couldn't have seen more from her.

Some may complain that Ethan Rayne gets less to do this time. His thunder's been stolen by Giles, Joyce and Snyder, so he's more of the straight man to the subtle comedy provided by the three. Nevertheless, it's good to see Robin Sachs back – the bit where he's caught hiding in a crate is a laugh-out-loud bit of humour. Trick and the Mayor also get less to do this time around, although we're starting to see some of the darkness behind Wilkins' squeaky clean façade. He keeps Scotch in a shrunken head in a mysterious cupboard of skulls and twisted remains and pointedly warns Trick about failing him again after the sacrifice to the demon Lurconis goes wrong.

The Lurconis subplot admittedly doesn't work as well as it could have done. It feels tacked on, with the action feeling a little rushed in a five minute confrontation in the sewers. The CGI for Lurconis isn't bad, although the piercing screams as it's roasted alive are ironically more disturbing. Likewise, the ongoing Willow 4 Xander subplot still feels out of character for both, as the two play footsie in the classroom. It's a mini plot that's attracted division from the fans. Myself, I can see the logical path, but at the same time, it sits awkwardly next to Willow's relationship with Oz.

These are minor niggles, however. Band Candy marks writer Jane Espenson's début for Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and it's fair to say, she's made a reputation for writing the more light-hearted episodes. Not only does Espenson show a good grasp of the regular characters, she also displays a knack of writing genuinely funny scripts. Band Candy is one of her most successful outings, and already, Espenson knows the characters inside out – from the juvenile adult leads through to Buffy's complaints and desire to lead a normal life. Lots of memorable lines from Oz's assertion that “it's a sobering mirror to look into” through to the Kiss Rocks gag at the end (“Why would anyone want to kiss...oh, wait. I get it.”).

Michael Lange's strong direction complements the script with lots of good shots of the adults going about their business, whether running amok in playgrounds or racing cars (and crashing Joyce's geek machine in the process).

Like Homecoming, Band Candy is all about having a good time. There's nothing like a bit of escapist entertainment, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer manages to go one better by not only providing 45 minutes of fun diversion, but doing so with thought, imagination and class. Band Candy has all of these in abundance, and stands as one of the (many) highlights to revisit in Season Three.